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9/11 recordings: "Somebody's stabbed... I think we're getting hijacked"

Audio recordings made on the day of the 9/11 attacks document the reactions of flight crew, air traffic controllers and the US military as events unfolded.

Image: AP Photo/Chao Soi Cheong/PA

AUDIO RECORDINGS taken on the day of the 9/11 terror attacks have been released for the first time, providing an insight into the plight of those on board the planes and the reactions of air traffic controllers and military personnel.

The recordings include worried calls between the Federal Aviation Administration, American Airlines staff and the north American Aerospace Defense Command during the hijackings and plane crashes.

The New York Times has uploaded over two dozen recordings taken that day which were released by the Rutgers Law Review as part of the 9/11 Commission report. Some of the recordings had been played during the Commission hearings in 2003 and 2004.

The calls document what happened on board some of the aircraft as hijackers and flight crew called air traffic controllers. They also detail the response on the ground, as reports of the planes striking the World Trade Centre buildings and the Pentagon came in.

“We have some planes”

Air traffic controllers spoke to one of the hijackers of American Airlines Flight 11, who told them “we have some planes”, but warned against making “any moves” and said that they were returning to the airport.

Another call details a conversation between American Airlines staff member Nydia Gonzalez and a flight attendant on board the airline’s Flight 11, which later struck the World Trade Centre’s North Tower.

Nydia Gonzalez tells her airline’s emergency line that attendant Betty Ong told that the pilots have been stabbed and access to the cockpit is blocked. Gonzalez turns from the emergency line back to the attendant, saying: “I’m on still with security, OK, Betty? You are doing a great job just stay calm, OK?”

In the emergency call from Ong on board the hijacked plane, she says it’s not clear who stabbed the flight crew and explains that no one can get near the cockpit because of “Mace or something” which affects their breathing if they approach it.

Meanwhile, in audio from United Airlines Flight 93, air traffic controllers hear screaming on board before one of the hijackers is later heard saying: “We have a bomb on board”. A subsequent recording from another pilot reports seeing the plane rocking its wings, which may have been an attempt to deter the passengers on board who tried to wrest control of the aircraft from the hijackers.

As one plane remained unaccounted for and was suspected of heading for the White House, military personnel clarify that fighter pilots do not have permission to shoot down planes. Later audio outlines that the then-vice president Dick Cheney has given pilots clearance to shoot down planes that fail to respond.

Heightened security

US authorities have raised their security levels after receiving “credible information” that terrorist may be planning an attack to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the attacks this weekend. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg stressed yesterday that although the information is credible, “it has not been corroborated”.

“But we do live in a world where we must take these threats seriously, and we certainly will,” he added.

Bloomberg said that extra police would be deployed to the city streets and urged the public to remain vigilant, but not to be intimidated by the warning:

The best thing wethat we can do to fight terror is to refuse to be intimidated by it. For ten years, we have not allowed terrorists to intimidate us. We have lived our lives without fear – and we will continue to do so.

Meanwhile, Pakistan is preventing access to the former home of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, where US forces killed him in May. Pakistani authorities said it is because of investigations into bin Laden’s time there and the US attack on the compound, however local media has criticised the move saying Pakistan should be able to show it has nothing to hide there.

Listen to all of the recordings via the New York Times >

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